The Ultimate Guide To Building A PMO

The words still echo in my mind as I think back to that fateful meeting.

‘Adrian,

… you’re not the first one to try this.

It’s not gonna work.

Not here.’

It was the moment I unveiled our plans to revamp our project management processes, adding more structure and implementing new rules.

The people had witnessed many attempts to tame the messy project management at my company, but none of these attempts lasted longer than a couple of months.

With a workforce deeply entrenched in their old ways (it seemed almost painful to watch), attempting to introduce even the simplest rules for project management felt like a battle against the tide, especially with a team that staunchly resisted any form of change.

I had joined as a Project Manager only 3 months earlier. During the interview, my manager (also new to the company) shared his vision for launching a PMO. 

Having been part of a successful PMO implementation at my previous employer, I had witnessed first-hand how useful a PMO could be for an organization.

I was eager to help!

So … did we succeed in building a PMO this time?

Yes. 

Within only 8 months, we had a functional PMO up and running, along with basic project governance in place that fixed 80% of the issues plaguing our project management process.

The results started to show.

As a team, we became more efficient, significantly cut down on wasted effort, minimized resource conflicts and escalations, gained better clarity on priorities, and were able to focus our efforts on projects with the greatest positive impact on our business division.

It was not an easy process though.

But it’s always amazing to see how much you can actually accomplish when you involve people in the process, listen to them, take their concerns seriously, and draw a connection between the problems that make daily work difficult for employees and the measures you want to implement.

You can accomplish a lot … and I mean you.

Building a PMO From The Ground Up: Learn From Someone Who Has Done It

In this article, I’ll share my approach to building a PMO. We’ll look at specific strategies we’ve used that had a big impact on our success. As a Project Manager who has been involved in the details of PMO rollouts, I’ll keep this guide as practical as possible – discussing the points you must work on regardless of the size of your company, and I’ll be skipping things that only apply to a small fraction of organizations.

Here’s my philosophy when it comes to PMO design:

  • Focus on quick results: You probably already have a hectic schedule and are leading the PMO initiative on top of your other commitments. My goal is to help you achieve real results quickly –  without getting lost in conceptual questions or trying all sorts of methods for months and not seeing any improvements.
  • Keep things lean: In line with my previous point, we are not going to build a complicated bureaucratic monster called PMO or write 500-page PM guidelines. Instead, we want to establish a lean but really effective governance structure that will solve 80% of the bottlenecks your organization faces with project delivery. I’ve seen it work before, and I know you can make it work too.
  • Must fit for less mature organizations: Tightening processes to improve quality in project execution is great. But we need to be careful not to introduce too many changes at once, especially if your team isn’t used to a lot of formal structure. That’s why I promote a collaborative approach, where you work closely with your team and stakeholders to identify bottlenecks and design a suitable new process.

Sounds good? 

Let’s move on. 

But before we get to specific actions, I want to share an important point:

Want To Start a PMO? Think Before You Start!

Here’s the thing:

Many organizations who want to build a Project Management office make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. They fixate on the idea of having a PMO without first identifying the problem they’re trying to solve or the goals the PMO should accomplish. It’s like constructing a building without first determining the intended purpose.

This backward approach is guaranteed to fail. But still, I see companies falling into this trap all too often. Let’s not make this mistake.

A Project Management Office is just a means to an end. Its immediate job is to ensure that more projects make it successfully through the finish line. But is that its ultimate purpose? 

Think about it: 

A project being completed successfully, how does that benefit an organization?

Take these examples:

  • Client work: A well-managed client project means that the customer may hire the company again because the customer experience was great. He may also recommend it to others. This means more sales and growth opportunities down the line! With efficient resource management, the project will also contribute to the company’s profit, adding resources for investments.
  • IT: A well-managed IT project guarantees the stability of an organization’s infrastructure and good support of business processes, ensuring the organization can operate successfully.
  • Charity: In the charity sector, good project management makes sure resources are shared well and reach the right people on time. This helps the organization achieve its goals and builds trust with both donors and those receiving help.
  • Marketing: Great execution of marketing projects helps businesses maintain a competitive edge. This can lead to increased brand awareness, customer engagement, and ultimately, higher sales and profitability.

What role projects have for your organization depends on its nature. In businesses, projects are typically measured by their contribution to meeting financial and strategic goals.

By setting strict rules for how projects are managed, the PMO helps to raise the quality of projects and thereby contributes to the overall success of the organization.

So, here’s the question you need to ask yourself:

How Exactly Can Your PMO Positively Impact Your Organization's Value Chain?

Take as example an engineering firm that builds production machinery on behalf of clients.

Such projects are complex by nature due to the involvement of lots of people, the large number of manufacturing steps, and technical complexity.

A well-managed engineering project means: the machine is delivered on schedule, and customer requirements are excellently implemented. This results in a satisfied customer. There are no errors thanks to thorough pre-delivery inspections, and lower material consumption due to careful planning. Guaranteed compliance with safety and other legal standards means no hassle with authorities and customs when exporting the machinery to another country.

We could list more points, but the conclusion remains the same: a well-executed engineering project strengthens customer trust and brings us more revenue in the long term. In addition, by meeting profit targets at the project level, we strengthen the financial cushion of our company (a prerequisite for R&D). And because we work so efficiently, we may even be able to realize more projects than our competitors. This makes us a real powerhouse!

You understand what I’m getting at.

The key is to figure out in detail, how successfully executed projects can contribute to your organization’s success, whether it’s in financial or other measures.

Example of how project quality impacts an organization's success. When building a PMO, you need to understand how your project success rate drivers the success of your organization. This is essential for getting buy-in from top-level stakeholders.

Once you’ve clearly defined the value proposition of your PMO, you can advocate for the PMO idea internally. You can approach the CEO and present your proposal: “Here’s our plan. Here are the benefits the PMO will bring to the organization. Will you support us?”

If you do a good job selling your idea, you’ll have the strongest support you could hope for.

If reaching the CEO is challenging, try to secure sponsorship from at least one member of the executive team.

Get Executive-Level Support. You’ll need it.

Projects like a PMO implementation are inherently political. They affect a variety of areas, and department managers fear external control and the loss of freedom that usually comes with stricter regulation of project management procedures. Lastly, project managers get cold feet because they worry about being monitored or failing to meet expectations. All of these are reasons why PMO rollouts are very difficult.

Top-management sponsorship doesn’t make the project easier. But a high-ranking sponsor gives the project the necessary authority for you to even engage with stakeholders to discuss the approach.

Invite the sponsor to key milestone meetings and keep them updated on the PMO initiative’s progress. This is crucial! As you probably can confirm, management often does not appreciate the importance of project management and project managers. With the establishment of a PMO, we want to change this perception! The leadership team should understand that good, methodical project management is essential for the organization’s success!

Once you’ve got management on board, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and start working.

As I’ve emphasized earlier, any PMO initiative should focus first and foremost on solving problems in the project delivery process. We are not doing this to introduce bureaucracy without good reason.

This means you need to start by finding the problems that are currently preventing projects from being successful.

Look for Pain Points That Could Be Solved

What makes a project ‘successful’?

The answer is not that easy, and it depends on who you ask. Meeting deadlines and sticking to the budget are important, but they are not the only things that make a project good. Just ask somebody about their favorite project, and you’ll be surprised by their response. The level of collaboration and the skill of the project leader are important factors in how projects are perceived in terms of quality.

I just want you to broaden your perspective as you discuss project experiences with your coworkers.

As you examine your current process in search for bottlenecks, keep the following questions in mind.

  • Why do some projects struggle with meeting milestones?
  • Why do some projects run over budget?
  • Why do some projects feel like a bumpy ride while others appear to progress smoothly?
  • What factors are leading to frustration among team members, project managers and other stakeholders?
  • What projects can be seen as examples of great execution? What makes them stand out?

You look for obstacles that stand in the way of project success.

In a later step, we’ll see how to fix those issues using project governance and other mechanisms. We’ll get there – be patient.

But wait.

How do you find answers to these questions?

How do you figure out which problems need fixing?

You talk to your stakeholders – everyone who is either helping with projects or is somehow affected or involved in the process. You have detailed conversations with these stakeholders to understand what’s currently going well or not so well in terms of project execution.

These stakeholder interviews are your first big step, and you should set aside enough time. The interviews are really important, not just for finding problems to solve and defining your project governance strategy. By talking to your stakeholders and showing real interest in their project experiences, you are building trust. And trust is everything in this kind of project.

Let’s talk about how to conduct the stakeholder interviews.

Stakeholder Interviews: Identifying Current Bottlenecks And Stakeholder Needs

Who are your stakeholders in project management? The circle will vary depending on the focus and size of your organization. Below are the stakeholder groups typically involved with projects:

Group Relationship
Functional teams
These departments provide resources and expertise for projects, whether it's during the design or implementation phase. They also submit project requests to address improvement opportunities within their area or changes in legislation.
Project Managers
Include all levels of project leadership
Finance
Your finance team will have a say in questions of project budgeting. They will also handle the account side of projects, such as paying vendor invoices or managing customer payments.
Manufacturing & Operations
If projects involve the manufacturing of physical items, the manufacturing team also must be involved. The same goes for an Operations team in charge of coordinating services provided to clients.
Sales
If your company undertakes projects for clients, you likely have a dedicated sales team that prepares initial project documentation, such as the statement of work. Poor alignment between sales and project management, responsible for delivering client projects, is a frequent cause of project issues. Therefore, this is an important area to focus on!
IT
IT is very project-driven and thus a major sponsor or project owner. IT also oversees and manages software rollouts and takes care of user infrastructure. Thus, if you are planning to roll out some project management software, you will have to involve IT.
Customers
The ultimate measure of whether a project was successful or not should come from your clients. They're the ones who pay for your salary and keep the organization running. Speak to some clients and listen to their feedback on previous projects and what's important to them.
Purchasing
Does your organization frequently purchase materials or services used in projects? Then your purchasing department is a key stakeholder. Buyers lead negotiations with suppliers and handle the transactional side of purchasing within your ERP.
Leadership Team & CEO
For reasons I don’t understand, many PMO advocates are hesitant to discuss their plan with their leadership team and CEO. Big mistake. The leadership team sets the strategy for the organization and really wants to see it materialize. And projects are what drives strategy! So, involve your leadership team and listen to their vision for the organization's future. Then, find out how a PMO can help achieve that vision.
HR
It's important to involve HR in setting up your PMO's organizational structure. You might want to create a dedicated team with specific roles and necessary skills. This would fall under HR's responsibilities, including hiring staff for the PMO.

Before you contact your stakeholders and plan meetings, it’s important to think about how you present yourself and your plan.

Here’s why:

When people hear that you want to “build a PMO,” they might start to worry. For many, the term PMO has negative connotations because they think it means more rules and control, which can make managers nervous. This is especially true for lower and mid-level managers who already have a lot on their plates and have to manage work and resources all day long.

So, here’s my advice:

Avoid using the term ‘PMO’ when talking to stakeholders.

Heck … don’t even mention building a Project Management Office.

Instead, frame your plan around improving processes and tackling those frustrating issues and bottlenecks that people who are involved in projects keep complaining about.

People will have lots to say about what they don’t like on how projects are being handled, things that waste their time or aren’t clear. And then you come in like a hero, ready to bring discipline and structure to project management, making their lives easier. Isn’t that amazing?

That’s how you pitch your idea.

That takes us to the practical side of the interviews:

What questions should you ask?

Who specifically do you invite?

First, set aside at least 1.5 – 2 hours per interview. This will allow you to have deep conversations and discuss problems and expectations in-depth. The department heads are your primary contacts. However, it is often helpful to also include regular employees in the interviews. They can provide firsthand insights from their daily project experiences and share specific situations.

Here are a few good questions to begin with:

  • How satisfied are you with the way projects are currently handled?
  • Which aspects of our project management process do you think need improvement or cause issues?
  • How do these issues affect your work or department?
  • Do you feel well-informed about the status of projects?
  • What changes do you think should be made to the way projects are managed?

It may be helpful to discuss a real project and look at the actual challenges it caused for your stakeholders. Real-life examples of project delivery issues will help you find the right solutions faster.

Apart from addressing problems with how projects are carried out, you should also try to identify your stakeholders’ expectations concerning communication and cross-team alignment. This means figuring out what information they want to know about current and future projects, when they want to know it, how often, and who they need to coordinate with.

See, a big issue in today’s organizations is communication between departments. Everyone tends to focus solely on their own work, and interactions with other teams, whether spontaneous or planned, are limited (virtual collaboration has made it even worse). This lack of communication leads to lots of problems when people aren’t properly informed.

Therefore, a key role of the PMO is to break down these barriers and ensure that important information is shared with the appropriate individuals when necessary. The PMO should facilitate this communication. As a result, it’s crucial that you identify what project-related information needs to be shared with other teams so they can effectively carry out their tasks.

As you listen to what your stakeholders say, refrain from sharing your own ideas. Don’t suggest solutions or try to steer the conversation in a particular direction. Just make sure you understand their challenges and expectations completely. Take good notes during the interview because what you learn will help you plan how to manage projects better in the future.

Designing Your Future Project Management Process

Your next important step is to review the interview findings, identify the key issues in the current project management process, and come up with a process to solve them. If this sounds too broad, don’t worry. I’ll provide some concrete examples.

Think Full-Cycle!

When you review your current process, make sure that you look at the entire process from project idea to project completion. Many issues faced in active projects can be traced back to the early project stage where some point was either overlooked or not done properly.

For example, failing to do a proper stakeholder analysis at the start of a project frequently leads to delays and cost overruns. This happens because as the project progresses, the team may realize they need to involve additional stakeholders, each with their own ideas and demands.

Here’s another example from my work:

I once joined an IT PMO that oversaw the technical side of improving processes within the company’s business applications. Each improvement request was treated as a small project. Our clients were internal departments like finance, purchasing, or sales. The process hadn’t been managed properly for years, causing various issues. The biggest problem: Nearly 30% of the software features we developed for these departments weren’t used after 12 months. This meant a lot of time and money wasted on features that ended up not benefiting the company! How did we address this issue? We established a formal review process for new feature requests and required functional teams to submit a cost/benefit analysis. Basically, they were required to quantify the potential cost savings or additional revenue generated by the proposed software change. Although there was initial pushback from the departments, it ultimately had a positive impact. Why? Because setting higher standards for new requests made departments put more effort into their ideas, resulting in better solutions and increased usage.

That’s how you fix issues in your project delivery process.

You start with the problem and then design a practical solution.

Review Interview Feedback

Take some time to go over the feedback gathered from your interviews to understand how people view the project management process and the challenges they face. Identify recurring issues and prioritize them based on frequency.

Here are some examples of the feedback you might receive:

  • Gordon, Finance Manager: “Project managers keep coming out of nowhere with all sorts of complicated questions. They’ll send me a 300-page PDF asking, ‘Can you look over this from a finance angle? Is that okay?’, expecting an answer by tomorrow. This can’t go on. If you need our help, involve us early on. My team is swamped with audits and closing tasks; they can’t drop everything to support a project on the side”
  • Leslie, Department Head: “You know, whenever Amy, Sam, or Sahil are running a project, I can’t help but smile. Communication just clicks with them. But with the others, it’s like pulling teeth. I never seem to get the info I need on the first try—I end up having to chase them down five times over. It’s just so draining, you know?”
  • Rita, Administrative Assistant: “So, my boss tasked me with double-checking purchase orders and assigning them to the right projects. Problem is, I don’t have access to the file with the project numbers. So I’m stuck emailing Rachel every time, asking for the right number. It’s a bit of a hassle, but hey, it gets the job done, I guess.”

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m quite certain you’ll find that communication and alignment are commonly mentioned as major pain points by your stakeholders.

In the case of example 1, the finance manager complaining about being involved in projects late, here we have the classic problem of dependencies in a project not being considered, or not being acted up sufficiently early. How would you address that problem?

In example 2, where project managers aren’t responding promptly to questions from stakeholders, what’s the underlying issue? Could it be a lack of communication skills? It seems plausible, but we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on one piece of feedback. Perhaps the unresponsive project managers are simply overwhelmed with their workload and unable to respond promptly. To understand the situation better, we should have a conversation with them.

In example 3, where admin assistant Rita is having difficulty with project-related purchase orders, what’s the root cause? Firstly, why are purchase orders needing to be checked. And why aren’t they being assigned to the correct project? These are questions worth exploring. Also, why doesn’t Rita have access to the project master list? Granting her the necessary access could be a simple solution – and a quick win for your PMO initiative!

One thing that you should take away from these examples is that you may have to do some detective work to uncover the true source of problems. Also, be prepared to having follow-up conversations with the stakeholders.

At the end of this step, you should have gone through the interview results and identified the key flaws and bottlenecks in your current project management process. 

I bet that having gone through the feedback, you already have a few good ideas for measures that would solve the current issues. Right?

Sketch out your updated process

Now, let’s outline the future project delivery process for your organization.

I suggest using PowerPoint to create a flow chart illustrating the high-level process. Visualizing the process in a simple format will make it easier to communicate your ideas to stakeholders.

(You’ll provide detailed written documentation of the process later.)

So, where should we begin?

As mentioned earlier, you should have a project intake or submission step, where departments submit their project requests. This step should be the starting point in your process overview.

When mapping out the process, divide it into common stages such as:

  • Submittal of Project Request
  • Project Initiation
  • Project Planning
  • Design / Concept
  • Implementation
  • Transition / Rollout
  • Post-Rollout & Closing

Breaking down your project process into clearly defined phases is essential for establishing project governance mechanisms and defining the PMO’s responsibilities.

Basically, you define a standard framework for projects and create simple guidelines for what needs to be done at each step.

You also decide who needs to approve a project’s progression to the next stage. That’s how you establish project governance. And this framework is necessary for the PMO (and other governing bodies, like a steering committee) to fulfill their roles effectively.

A good starting point is to concentrate on project documentation:

  • Which documents are required for each phase?
  • Who will be responsible for reviewing the documents?

For example, when starting a new project, the requesting department might have to complete a one-page project summary form. In the initiation stage, a high-level scope statement is necessary. Moving into the planning phase, a detailed project timeline, resource estimates, and budget overview are expected, all coordinated with relevant project contributors and owners. This documentation process continues until the end of the project, wrapping up with the submission of a project closing report.

As you’re aware, most Project Managers aren’t thrilled about preparing extensive documentation. However, these documents serve a crucial purpose beyond just documenting ideas.

Standardized project documents across the organization simplify sharing key project details with relevant stakeholders. For instance, if all project managers use the same budget form, it streamlines integration with the finance team’s overall financial forecast. Conversely, if each PM used their own budgeting sheet, it would create confusion and delay in clarifying numbers.

Another benefit of robust project documentation is its role in assessing project health and progress, allowing us to take action before small issues turn into big ones. Additionally, thorough documentation allows for effective management of a large project pipeline, which is a core function of a PMO—they rely heavily on organized documentation.

So, which documents should you require for projects? It depends on what you’ve already got in place, and where you see the greatest need for action (based on current process issues).

Most companies don’t have any set rules for documentation. When starting a PMO, they might kick things off by introducing a mandatory schedule template for projects. This is a smart move. The schedule is a core document for every project and it’s something everyone can easily understand. After that, they might introduce more templates to address other gaps in areas like risk management, reporting, or cross-team alignment.

Now, we’ve gone into detail about documentation as a primary focus area for your emerging PMO through establishing guidelines. However, documentation is just one aspect of project governance.

There’s a range of governance methods your PMO can put into practice.

I call them “Project Governance Building Blocks”.

Choose Your Project Governance Building Blocks

Project governance building blocks are mechanisms to control and monitor active projects. The PMO’s job is to select suitable building blocks and coordinate the related tasks, such as reviewing project documentation, facilitating meetings or coordinating resource requirements with the affected project stakeholders.

Here are some common building blocks:

  • Central document repository
  • Document templates
  • Project status reports + dashboards
  • Project review meetings
  • Process management guidelines
  • Project checklists
  • Quality gates (also known as stage gates)

Anything looking familiar?

Any building blocks you’ve already got in place?

Let’s go through each of them:

A central document repository isn’t strictly a governance mechanism, but you want project documentation to be stored at a central place for reasons of project governance. Simply knowing where to find the schedule, budget or risk matrix etc. for a project will make it easier to fulfil your governance duties as a PMO.

Document templates – we’ve talked about those before.

Having Project Managers provide regular updates in the form of status reports or project dashboards is a great way how you can monitor progress. Typically, you’ll have a standard slide where project managers must report major issues. From there, you can see where you as a PMO should intervene and assist the project manager with the issue, if necessary.

This brings me to an important point: Asking Project Managers to submit regular progress updates is not enough. There needs to be someone who actively reviews these reports and engages with the PMs by asking good questions or offering feedback. If PMs feel like their reports are ignored, it can diminish the respect for your PMO.

How about progress review meetings?  They are another effective way to touch base with project managers and learn how a project is doing.

The time commitment is certainly higher. But a face-to-face conversation allows us to discuss issues on the spot. Review meetings should happen at different levels: For example, project managers should hold routine updates with their managers. In addition, the PMO should hold regular update sessions with each PM. At a higher leadership level, the project portfolio should be discussed with upper management. This reporting flow goes all the way up to the CEO, where project progress is reviewed collectively, focusing only on key projects.

As a PMO, your role involves suggesting a suitable meeting format. Also, work closely with stakeholders to develop templates that make it easier to share information with the relevant audience.

Do you have a question?

Have a question about this article? Need some assistance with this topic (or anything else)? Send it in and I’ll get back to you soon. 

How do project management guidelines relate to the PMO’s governing role?

Project management guidelines are a kind of SOP (standard operating procedure) for project management. PM guidelines outline how projects are to be initiated, planned and managed at your organization. They can be a simple Word document with only a dozen or so pages (or more, depending on the complexity of your projects).

Among other things, the guidelines should cover documents required, project phases, quality gates, checklists to be used or governing bodies to establish. Even as the most “lean” PMO, you definitely want to create a guidelines document that project managers can follow.

Another useful component of project governance are project checklists. Consider this: establishing a PMO is all about ensuring consistency in your operations – ensuring that the organization consistently performs at its best level.

Image of project checklist for starting new projects
Example of a project checklist

Project checklists promote consistency by offering a structured framework for handling projects. It’s the PMO’s responsibility to create suitable checklists for different project stages and to regularly review checklists for ongoing projects.

Two governance building blocks that are often implemented in conjunction are project checklists and quality gates. Quality gates are simply checkpoints projects must clear before they are allowed to move into the next phase. At these checkpoints, the steering committee, along with the PMO and other governing bodies, assesses whether the project has completed all the key activities for the current phase. Checklists outline the activities that need to be completed for a quality gate.

These are the main building blocks for project governance. As part of the process redesign, think about which building blocks could have the biggest impact on improving project delivery.

There are more advanced governance mechanisms, like project auditing, but these only make sense once you’ve got the basic controls in place.

So, which governance building blocks should you establish?

There is no general answer.

Two things I recommend:

1) Start small: Introduce only a few building blocks at the beginning, those you feel will have the greatest positive impact on project delivery. You can always enhance your governance structure later.

2) Match problems with building blocks: Check which governance mechanisms are best suited to address specific project delivery challenges.

Let’s revisit the earlier example where a Finance Manager expressed frustration about their team consistently being brought into projects too late:

One simple solution to avoid such cases would be to introduce a “project initiation checklist.” This checklist should include a question like: “Does the project affect accounting processes or data?” The project manager will review this question when setting up the project, possibly with input from the finance team, and record their assessment on the checklist. The PMO will then review the checklist and, if confident in the team’s efforts and the accuracy of the assessment, approve the project for the next stage. If the project does impact accounting, the team must provide evidence of securing finance resources for the project.

Another example:

If cross-team alignment and balancing resource requirements is a frequent challenge in your organization, why not schedule routine reconciliation meetings with the department leads? As the PMO Lead, you would review ongoing and upcoming projects with the leads and develop a mutually agreed resource demand forecast for the upcoming months.

By now you should have more clarity on what building a PMO involves. You have seen how basic project governance can help you improve your project management process. It’s not rocket science.

Want to start a PMO? My advice:

Start off simple and with the mindset that you want to help project managers and your company achieve successful project outcomes. Focus on solving pain points that stand in the way of successful project completion.

Test-Driving Your New Process

You’ve finalized your updated project management process and got approval from your stakeholders. What’s the next step?

Now, it’s time to implement the new process for upcoming projects.

Set a cut-off date for when the new process will start. It’s best to apply the new guidelines to future projects, while ongoing ones can continue under the existing rules until completion.

From my conversations with other PMO Leads, a smart approach to rolling out your new process is to pilot it in a specific area or project first. This allows you to test the process in real-world scenarios and collect valuable feedback from project managers and stakeholders. Using this feedback, you can make adjustments to the process so it aligns with the organizational “reality” of your company.

You can conduct the pilot in a specific business division or area, like IT, finance, or after-sales. This approach is suitable if you plan to establish a company-wide PMO (enterprise PMO). Alternatively, you can test the new process on a specific project as another option.

As you roll out your new process and watch the effectiveness of your governance structure, remain in regular contact with your PMs, departments and other stakeholders:

  • What do they think about the new process?
  • Do stakeholders value the improved information-sharing and alignment facilitated by the PMO?
  • Are the guidelines clear and easy to understand?
  • Do the templates meet their needs and are they user-friendly?
  • Are project managers able to fulfill the new requirements with reasonable effort, or is the standard too demanding?

Keep in mind that:

You’ll never be able to make everybody happy. 

Some people will glorify the old days when things were simple and they could just “do their job”. Others will predict the soon failure of the new process. I’ve heard all sorts of feedback like this.

However, in general, the feedback from your stakeholders should be positive. They should feel the benefits of the new process, whether it’s clearer guidelines, better communication or alignment, or less avoidable work.

The Net Benefit Of Your Updated Project Management Process, facilitated by the PMO, Should Be Positive

Test-drive your new process for 3-6 months. Then review the effectiveness of the process and make adjustments based on people’s feedback. This may include adding, changing or removing governance building blocks, or refining the PMO’s role in the various process steps.

PMO Organizational Setup and Roles

So far, we’ve focused on developing a project management process. Now, let’s talk about the responsibilities of the Project Management Office (PMO) and how you can organize its work.

What could be the PMO’s duties and how could you segregate the work?

The PMO doesn’t necessarily have to be a separate entity within the organization, although having it as its own department adds more credibility to the work. If you’re not ready to establish a standalone department or hire a big team yet, you can integrate PMO responsibilities into an existing department. Departments focused on continuous improvement and process excellence are good candidates for this integration.

To outline your PMO’s duties, go through your new project management process and consider what role the PMO would play at each stage.

Begin with the basics. If your process calls for standard document templates, the PMO would be responsible for creating and maintaining them. Similarly, the PMO would draft project management guidelines and produce appropriate training materials. Additionally, conducting training sessions for project managers and stakeholders would be an ongoing task.

Looking at it from a day-to-day angle, the majority of the PMO’s tasks revolve around facilitating meetings. In its coordinating capacity, the PMO serves as a bridge between stakeholders and departments, bringing them together for alignment purposes. This aspect of bringing together the various stakeholder groups should be the main focus of the PMO.

Review your revised project management process while considering the involvement of the PMO. This will enable you to pinpoint the particular tasks that the PMO will need to manage. Once identified, you can then seek approval for the necessary job roles to begin assembling your PMO team.

The two minimum roles for a PMO are:

  • PMO Manager: The manager oversees the PMO operation and sets the goals. They must ensure that the PMO’s work aligns with the organization’s strategy. In addition, the manager keeps top management informed on the progress of projects.
  • Project Portfolio Managers: Portfolio managers oversee project progress and assist project leaders in preparing for important governance milestones such as quality gates. They guide projects from beginning to end and ensure that they meet the requirements for upcoming phases or milestones.

Notice I didn’t mention Project Managers because they often come from the functional or technical departments, rather than being assigned by the PMO.

Additional roles to be considered, depending on how you want to slice responsibilities:

  • Quality Managers (or Quality Assurance Specialists): These folks are in charge of checking whether projects meet the quality standards. They review project timelines, budgets, risk evaluations and other materials prepared by project leaders. At my previous workplaces, the QA team also handled project management guidelines, checklists and templates, which is a good idea.
  • Project Administrators: In some organizations, the PMO operates as a shared service entity, which takes over the administrative work of project managers. This is particularly beneficial for large projects with multiple tiers of project leadership. Admin tasks include reporting, cost tracking, resource planning and scheduling of meetings, among other things.
  • Resource Managers: Resource managers collaborate with project managers to understand the resource requirements for projects. They will assist in assigning suitable candidates and oversee the project portfolio from a resource angle. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure projects are properly staffed and avoid resource conflicts.

You might see other articles talking about different roles, but if you look closer, you’ll find they the same roles but with different names.

Closing Remarks

We’ve covered a lot in this article. If you’ve stuck around until here, that’s awesome! Hopefully, I was able to give you more clarity on the specific steps to building a PMO.

Keep in mind that there is no “standard” setup of a PMO. Its setup and the project governance building blocks should be chosen based on your organization’s needs to get the best results and ensure acceptance of the team.

Forming a PMO provides a unique opportunity to transform your organization and make project management the engine powerhouse that fuels the growth and success of your organization. Be prepared for some headwinds as you challenge existing practices and define project management at your organization. But the effort is definitely worth it, and you’ll be able to achieve results that speak for themselves – just stick to the key points I shared with you.

What you’ll eventually help build is a learning organization – an environment where techniques successfully tried in one project are being shared across the organization and become the default way of operating in your project management process.

For a detailed, step-by-step roadmap to building PMO and creating a project governance structure, check out my PMO Launch Checklist. It breaks down the process shared in this article into very specific, actionable steps, along with useful tips and best practices.

Author

  • Adrian Neumeyer

    Hi! I’m Adrian, founder of Tactical Project Manager and Ex-Project Manager with over ten years of experience in project management. Led large-scale IT implementations and business projects. I started Tactical Project Manager to offer you a straightforward and pragmatic approach to project management, enabling you to lead any project with confidence.